Saying goodbye when you don’t want to

Describe the last difficult “goodbye” you said.

We always want more time. One of the greatest tricks the world ever pulled was allowing you the headspace to forget that we are all doomed. No matter, we aren’t making it out of this thing alive.

But as much as we resist the push of Father Time on our collective clocks, we know it’s somewhere down the line. However, it doesn’t mean we learn how to say goodbye. A proper form is never acquired. Every loved one leaves too soon. Even pets.

There’s two worlds of pets for humans: the ones you get to interact with for small pockets of time, and the ones who are yours. Growing up with a cat or dog in your parents home falls somewhere in between I guess, but it’s not the same as having one (or five) when you’re older.

As an adult, you’re taking care of them: vet appointments, feeding, cleaning, and the most important one of all, loving. That’s on you.

One of the cruelest double-edged swords in life is having a pet. It’s sitting in the back of your head when you adopt them. The beauty of their arrival will eventually be short-circuited by their death. Love and grief are unlikely siblings.

The first pet Rachel and I adopted was a cat named Jack. He was the perfect pet. Cynical yet full of life like any human, Jack did it his way. No extra movement or emotion; just enough to let you know he was there and had your back.

One of the best memories I have came right after bringing him home to our Columbia, Missouri apartment. I had fallen asleep on the couch, and woke up with a heavier head than normal. It turns out tiny Jack had climbed up on top of me and found a new place to sleep, unbeknownst to his new dad.

When Jack squinted, he looked like Albert Pujols staring back at the pitcher before the ball was delivered. That was his form of love to us, akin to a wink. It was his thing.

Great pets are always eternal. You think about them all the time and anytime. The selfless nature they take on in a household is poignant, even if they are composing their own story at the same time.

Jack always had seizures, especially early on in his life. But towards his final days, he just took such a sharp turn for the worst. Death doesn’t call before it knocks on your door, but he went from being able to run around to becoming so short of breath that I could hear his lungs fighting a war with his body.

There isn’t a more painful thing than being unable to help someone you love. And yes, a pet is always someone to a family if they we cared for properly, never a “something.”

We were petting Jack on a dining room table bench-type piece of furniture, the one with a nice cushion. He was crouched down like his usual pose, but his midsection was squeezing and expanding rapidly. His breathing was rough, and his eyes had finally taken a turn down a weaker street.

He died on the way to the hospital, nestling all by himself on the foot area in the backseat. That drive up Murdoch to Webster Groves Animal Hospital will carry two extra grains of sadness to the end for me. We knew it was over, but refused to accept it. Our bodies wrestling with our all knowing brain.

Picking up his limp body from the backseat and crumbling in the parking lot suddenly feels like a shock from the past. Goodbyes were said inside the room later, but neither of us were really there. My wife and son, along with me, were off in some other headspace. Jack was gone, and we were chasing him to his next home.

That’s the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had.

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